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Double or Die is the third of the five Young James Bond novels by Charlie Higson and was published in 2007. The books follow the timeline established by the Ian Fleming novels written in the 1950s so we are in the 1930s and James Bond is now fourteen and a pupil at Eton. After his exotic adventure in Blood Fever, the young Bond is about to be plunged into a most puzzling adventure that becomes a race against time and is played out in Blighty. In a North London cemetery, an Eton professor named Fairburn is kidnapped at gunpoint. Fairburn - a distinguished mathematician - had left Eton without warning but has sent a letter to Pritpal Nandra, one of Bond's school friends. The letter is coded and appears to make no sense but Bond and his friends begin to decipher the letter and realise that Fairburn is in very big trouble. Not only that, but there are big ramifications for James Bond and beyond. There are many more clues to be decoded and understood by Bond and his friends and some very nefarious characters to be dealt with along the way. This is a surprisingly clever third entry in the series and seems to take some of its cues from The Da Vinci Code (even playing at times like a junior version of Die Hard with a Vengeance). The book is structured like Fleming's Moonraker and has more of a real time element and I think it was thoughtful the way that Higson set the story in Britain after the foreign adventure Bond undertook in Blood Fever.
One can see that he is trying to distinguish these books from one another and not make them all the same and the puzzle solving element to Double or Die allows for some nice riffs on scenes and situations that occurred in the Fleming novels. Bond even visits a casino here, a place where he would be near legendary as an adult for his gambling skills - although his first assignment in this world involves a game of Hearts. I love the way he meets an important villain over the game of cards. Very Ian Fleming. Higson is not Martin Amis and keeps his prose relatively simple but if one is familiar with the Fleming novels then there is a hidden layer of enjoyment to be gleaned from his references to those books and also the way he presents an affectionate take on Fleming's world and style. The most difficult task the author has with this series is to make us believe both that Bond had all of these adventures as a teenager years before he joined the secret service AND that he is also the same person who grows up to be Fleming's flawed but spiffy blunt instrument. The former is the hardest to digest (rather in the fashion that, for example, it's hard to take the television series Smallville seriously because we are supposed to believe Clark Kent had countless adventures and met all of his major villains before he even became Superman) but Higson doesn't do a bad job at all. In terms of atmosphere and their relationship to the source material these are not a million miles away from something like that Young Sherlock Holmes film. You can sort of believe Holmes had some notable capers as a youngster before he became a famous consulting detective and the same is certainly true of James Bond.
You can also believe that the character in this book really does grow up to be the James Bond who has all of those famous missions in the Fleming series. Higson gives Bond an early obsession with death and mortality, something that of course would never be too far from the adult Bond's preoccupations given his dangerous line of work. One other very nice touch is having Bond bored and restless at the start of the story. Fleming had a word for this ("accidie") and it's a very Bondian trait. Colonel Sun by Kingsley Amis aside, I've found the James Bond books written after Ian Fleming's death a struggle at the best of times and you probably wouldn't have lost an awful lot if some of them didn't exist but - despite the fact his books are aimed at younger readers - Higson conveys a better understanding of the world of Ian Fleming and the character than most of his precessors ever did. In a sense, Higson has a more enviable task than John Gardner or Raymond Benson did and is given (ahem) carte blanche to buld the character from the ground up and show the traits and personality of Fleming's Bond slowly falling into place. There is even more torture and sadism again (Fleming loved torture and sadism), Bond this time forced by some baddies to drink copious amounts of gin. He swears off drinking as an adult, a decent joke as the adult Bond could probably drink Oliver Reed under the table and still have room for a nightcap.
Higson seems to have upped the violence quotient here and it's rather bloodthirsty at times, something which I'm sure younger readers will enjoy. There is a henchman who keeps losing body parts and all manner of murders and explosions. I think the mist shrouded graveyard sequence in particular is superbly done and reads like a tribute to bygone adventure novels. The period setting is definitely a plus here too. John Gardner and Raymond Benson had to present James Bond in the eighties and nineties and it's just much more charming and novel to have him in the 1930s, a decade of course that Fleming's Bond would have experienced as a school boy. One of Fleming's trademarks was his habit of inserting factual information of great depth about whatever was related to Bond's mission. So, for example, in Live and Let Die, Fleming waffles on about voodoo being the invocation of evil denizens of the Voodoo pantheon and generally sounds like he's scribbling from an encyclopedia. It was sometimes fun and sometimes felt like padding but it did enable to reader and gain a crash course in whatever Bond was embroiled in, even if it was just his dinner. Higson does this too in tribute to Fleming and so you get a lot of information about things like rudimentary computers and London's East End. Maybe some of these passages could have done with an edit.
As puzzle solving and codes are a big part of the story it's nice to see Alan Turing get a mention. The use of domestic locations is nicely done and look out for an old friend from SilverFin making an appearance here just in the nick of time. I like the way the book is split into three parts with Fleming-esque chapter titles and Bondian names abound again. You even get henchmen named Ludwig and Wolfgang. This is an enjoyable read on the whole and another nice addition to the series.
My son and I have both been reading the Young Bond series. As he is only 6, I have read them first, then I read him a a chapter or two at night and when he get impatient he reads a few chapters on his own, although at age 6, this is difficult reading material as it does appear to be written on an adult reading level. The books are so good though, that my son will struggle through them - he just can not wait to see what happens next sometimes. Technically this book is classed as Young Adult, but it has proven popular with children much younger and a great many adults as well. This is truly an excellent series and I would no hesitation at all in recommending this book to anyone over the age of 6.
When reviewing picture books - I don't mind giving away a few spoilers as very few adults will be reading these for their own pleasure and very few toddlers will be reading my reviews. I think with very young children, parents will often want to know if there is anything which might upset the child. Although my son loves these books, and I think many young boys would, this series also appeals very highly to adult readers. I absolutely loved this series myself, and these are the type of books that could be completely ruined by any spoilers so I will be sticking to a minimal plot description. I will give a warning though, that there is a fair amount of violence, a few slightly gruesome descriptions, and one very morbid discussion on the nature of death that I was slightly uncomfortable with myself. If this were a movie I would expect at least an age 13 rating. If you are considering buying this for a young child, please feel free to message me and I'd be happy to provide more complete details.
' Double or Die' is the 3rd in the Young Bond Series. When reviewing the second book 'Blood Fever' I commented that these could be read out of order. That statement is true for the first 2 books, but not for this one. If you read this book before reading 'Blood Fever' you can expect a complete spoiler for the previous book as it makes a comment which gives all the surprises of 'Blood Fever' away. You will be able to understand this book without difficulty, even if you have not read the previous books. Everything you would need to know is neatly wrapped up in a summary, but this is why you should not read this book first. I do believe most people who pick up this book will want to read the whole series, so I must recommend very strongly - Do not read this book until you have read the first two!
As mentioned, this book begins with a very brief summary of the previous book as summer break ends and James prepares to return to Eton. Once back in his familiar dorm room James is enjoying a forbidden game of cards with a few mates ( it wouldn't be nearly as fun if it were allowed) when the housemaster and headmaster arrive with a very strange letter for James' messmate, Pritpal, who is also president of the students crossword society. James in mentioned in the letter as well, which has already been read by the adults. They can not, however make any sense of it. The letter is from Pritpal's mentor, a popular young master who also runs the crossword society, as well as submitting a weekly crossword for publication in the paper. It quickly becomes obvious to the boys that the letter is in fact a series of carefully coded clues which must be decoded and very quickly. One of the first clues the boys were able to decipher gives them a time frame of only 48 hours. They must solve the clues and save their professor in this time frame - but there are much bigger implications, and the boys do not realise just how important their mission is - far more than the professor's life is at stake.
This story will see James' friend and fellow Danger Society member, Perry, heavily involved, as well as the welcome return of an old friend from James' past. Of course there is a girl as well - this time beautiful, fiery, self sufficient and Irish, but the girls role is relatively short, and although there is some romantic tension - these books are young adult things never progress too far. Unlike in the adult novels - in which I remember James Bond saying something to the effect women existing to provide pleasure to him, in the Young James Bond books the girls are all strong willed, intelligent, resourceful and in each case, James really could not make do without them. There are no timid damsels in distress here. Although I do not think this would appeal as widely to girls as to boys, I do think there are a great many girls who would enjoy it, and the girls depicted in the stories are, for the most part, strong, positive role models. I also think the type of girl who does enjoy high octane adventure stories is especially likely to warm to the female characters in this book.
The adventure will take James to London from the Posh Regent's Park to the lower East End, and after the first few chapters set the scene is almost non stop action. But mixed in with the action are small bits of history such as mentions of the 1st World War. There is even a somewhat incongruous appearance of the American gangster Dutch Shultz. It becomes known quite early in the story that this mystery has something to do with improving on the work of Charles Babbage, a brilliant English mathematician and mechanical inventor who many may know as the Father of the computer age, but do keep in mind that although no exact year is given, this obviously 1930's so don't be expecting an I-pad.
I really enjoyed this book as an adult. There is plenty of suspense and trying to guess at the clues yourself is quite fun, even if I did only get a couple right myself. The author is very talented, and he makes the characters come completely to life, and makes you care about them as well. I especially like that while this book does have violence, and plenty of it, it also has strong morals, although I doubt a child would notice that. It very clearly points out that it is wrong to hurt anyone defenceless and that violence can only be justified as a matter of self defense or to defend another. It doesn't make just smashing and bashing people appear acceptable. I am extremely disappointed that the author stopped writing this series after the fifth book. I am enjoying his next series as well, but these books have left very much wanting to scream at the author - "You can't stop now - we want more!" I am not the only person to feel this way as there is an Internet page set up where people can add their vote telling this author we want him to give us more in this series. I can't tell you how annoyed I am that he stopped the series before the 2nd World War - now what better setting for espionage and the development of our young superspy could one find? I suppose that is a fair measure of Charlie Higson's writing skills, that many people so strongly want more. All we need is a Kathy Bates ......
As for my son, he absolutely loves this book. There was one part in particular, with an absolutely brilliant surprise where his eyes were wide as saucers, leaning forward hanging on every word. Pure genius. He loves the car chases, the brilliant escapes, as well as seeing the clues slowly solved. He also was interested in the references to history, so I was happy to look up Babbage for him and show a picture of his invention. I really liked this aspect of the book - that it left my son wanting to learn about other things. But the very best thing about this series of books is that it makes reading truly exciting for boys. This is a series that can truly rival ( and beat the pants off) the non stop action and excitement of video games, and I really think more books like these in the schools would see a massive jump in literacy rates.
As mentioned, there is a fair amount of violence in this book. I do not think most of it unduly upset my son as he old enough to understand that these are fictional characters. However, he did look a wee bit green at a description of WW1 injuries, and did ask if this kind of thing happened to real soldiers. Unfortunately, it did. I was concerned about a brief discussion of mortality though and thought to skip a paragraph there, but my son reached out and pointed to the beginning of the paragraph saying " you missed this bit", so I went ahead and read it. I do feel a bit uncomfortable discussing death with young children, but it is very much a part of life and I think perhaps we may make children more frightened by trying to completely shield them from it. My grandfather was always very calm and matter of fact on such things, and while I would not bring the subject up, I try to emulate his stance on this as best I can. This is a very short section of the book, but something I do think it is best for adults to be aware of.
There is something so sacrilicious about taking a well loved character and forcing them to live on for longer than they should. Whilst Ian Fleming was still alive he was able to see the first few James Bond films being made at least the titles followed his books. However, there simply were not enough books written to satisfy the mighty film juggernaut so people stepped in and created their own James Bond stories. This would prove to be a great success with the character living on today. However, what would Fleming think if he discovered that a Young Bond series of books had been written? Would you hear the tell tale noises of a man wearing a Walter PPK spinning in his grave, or would you instead discover a happy resting place?
Jimmy Bond is back at Eton after an eventful summer (see Blood Fever). He is going through the paces to pass his classes when once more he is thrust into an adventure. A friend of his has received a mysterious letter from a tutor who has gone missing. The letter seems to contain a series of clues as to the whereabouts of the missing man and the reasons for his abduction in the first place. James will find himself drawn into the dark underbelly of London as he seeks out a pair of brothers who are hunting a mysterious machine. With car chases, fire fights, action and romance - young Bond is back.
Double or Die is by far the best of the Young Bond books yet. Gone is the ludicrous plot lines that undermined the first two stories and instead Charlie Higson offers a farfetched, but infinitely more believable, tale. This book does not see Bond going to a mysterious county but instead he visits one of the most alien places around the slums of London. This gives the book a far darker feel that really energises the action and gives the book a real sense of menace.
The character of Bond is handled cleverly and sensitively by Higson and he manages to make the reader really want to root for this reckless youth. Bond for the first time begins to develop some of the skills that will later help him in life. He is no longer an innocent as he must fight for his life against evil men and women. It is clear through these books how he develops a mentality that will allow him to earn a license to kill in later years.
The introduction of the best bad guys also helps Double or Die in being the peak in the series. As well as a mysterious new group whose presence will probably appear in several books we get Ludwig and Wolfgang the best two characters that Higson has written yet. They are a pair of brother assassins who could not be more different. One is a handsome young man whilst the other is a hideous killer whose sunken frame gives him the appearance of a corpse. The fact that Ludwig and Wolfgang are written so well really aids the book in being tense, especially for younger readers. The fact that they are so evil means that perhaps adults should have a read of this title before allowing their kids to jump straight in.
The book reads like it is written in two acts; the first is a Da Vinci Code like game where Bond and his pals must uncover the truth behind a mysterious letter. For me this section worked ok, but I felt that the clues were too easy even for younger readers. The book really takes off during the action packed second half as car chases, underground railways and deserted shipyards make the book a great read. Both sections have their merits, but it is the second half that makes this the best book to read in the series.
With scary and thrilling moments and the best written bad guys and story to date Higson has finally hit his stride in writing the Young Bond books. The much darker tone gives the books the feel of the Fleming novels that inspired them and I finally think that the books are giving us a glimpse of the boy that grew into the man. If Higson can continue to imbue the series with some dark undertones and more realistic plot lines I look forward to the books (and inevitable Young Bond films) going from strength to strength.
Author: Charlie Higson
Price: amazon uk - £3.99
play.com - £4.99
Kidnap, violence, explosions, murder - it's no ordinary weekend. But then, James Bond is no ordinary boy ...In North London cemetery, a professor is kidnapped at gunpoint. A suspicious letter crammed with cryptic clues arrives at Eton. To decipher the deadly mystery, James Bond must take a series of dangerous gambles. Once the code is cracked, he has just forty-eight hours to save the professor from the dark forces that threaten to destroy them both. And, if the professor can't escape, it's not only his future under threat. It's the rest of the world's.